Is it safe to go back to the office?

is it safe to go to the office coronavirus
Photo via David Martyn Hunt/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Offices continue to present a higher risk of COVID-19 infection
  • Employers are working to negate the risk but some are still concerned
  • Refusing to return to the office could have consequences

Although the coronavirus pandemic is still a major factor in everyone’s lives, furloughed employees and those who shifted to home offices are beginning to return to work. With this return to the office comes anxiety over the safety of working in potentially crowded spaces with high infection risks. Employees wonder if it’s safe to be returning to the office and how to better protect themselves as we shift into this new, post-pandemic normal.

On May 27, the CDC released guidelines for employers regarding safety measures for returning employees. The guidelines include advisories on safe working conditions, isolation procedures, and educational resources. While these will surely help compliant businesses adapt, the reality that workplaces are awash with shared spaces makes them an inherent risk. 

There is no legal definition of what constitutes a safe working environment under COVID-19. That could potentially grant employers broad power in punishing and terminating employees who feel unsafe returning to normal office life. The recommendations regarding safety continue to shift—initially, the infection range was assumed to be much smaller, and mask-wearing suggestions have changed—and that makes it even harder for employers to guarantee a safe working environment. 

Experts have a variety of suggestions for making the transition back to offices as easy and safe as possible. Easy access to hand sanitizer and soap, staggered work and lunch times, enhanced cleanliness methods, and better testing are all on the list of advised changes for businesses. But not all workplaces are the same. While a typical office space can likely make many of these changes, other businesses will be left with no choice but to keep their doors shuttered or to reopen without fully implementing recommended procedures.

Even with the CDC’s adjustments, some employees may not feel safe returning to work. In many cases, employers are allowing their workers the choice. If employees are concerned that they may face termination due to their refusal to return, however, National Law Review addressed the legal standing that businesses and individuals have in this instance. Several federal laws, including the OSH Act, NLRA, and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act all offer assistance for employees with concerns about returning to work amid a pandemic.

Is it safe:

Sources: CNBC, CDC, Market Place, Time, National Law Review

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